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December 21, 2006

SCS.comThe bowl season is underway, and it's now time to take an in-depth look at the next four bowls in the lengthy collegiate postseason, the Papa John's, New Mexico, Armed Forces, and Hawaii Bowls. The Papa John's contest features South Florida (8-4) making its second straight postseason appearance in its 10th season of playing collegiate football, and East Carolina (7-5) returning to the postseason for the first time since 2001. The New Mexico Bowl, not surprisingly, showcases New Mexico (6-6) seeking its first bowl win in 45 years versus San Jose State (8-4) who is making its first bowl appearance since 1990 and its first ever outside the state of California.

In the Armed Forces Bowl, Utah (7-5) will be making its fourth consecutive bowl appearance versus Tulsa (8-4), who is heading to its third postseason contest in four seasons. The final bowl of this segment is the Hawaii Bowl, featuring the hometown Warriors (10-3) in their fourth bowl appearance in five seasons against Arizona State (7-5), who is making its third straight bowl trip in what will be head coach Dirk Koetterís last game at Arizona State.

Papa John's Bowl | New Mexico Bowl
Armed Forces Bowl | Hawaii Bowl

PAPA JOHN'S BOWL - East Carolina vs South Florida
December 23 - 12:00 PM CST ESPN2 - Birmingham, AL

When East Carolina has the ball...

The Pirates will focus early on establishing a ground game with leading rusher Brandon Fractious, who emerged during the season to take control of the starting position and lead the team with 675 yards on the ground. If ECU is successful in establishing Fractious, the field should open up for playmaking QB James Pinkney and WR Aundrae Allison to work their magic. Allison turned into the Pirates' most explosive weapon, and he can turn a 5-yard slant pattern into an 80-yard touchdown.

The South Florida defense will provide a stern test as the unit ranks 24th in the nation, yielding a total of 297 yards per game. ECUís Pinkney better keep one eye on USF cornerback Trae Williams, who intercepted 7 passes on the season to rank 6th in the nation, at all times. The Bulls' defense comes into this game off their strongest performance of the year in shutting down one of the nationís most explosive offenses in USFís 24-19 upset win over West Virginia to close out their regular season.

When South Florida has the ball...

The Bulls have a future star in freshman QB Matt Grothe, who led the team in passing and rushing this year. Grothe ranked 12th in the nation in total offense at 258.5 yards per game and was selected as the Big East rookie of the year as a reward for his strong season. On the receiving end of Grotheís aerials is usually WR Earl Randolph, who caught 47 balls for 479 yards and 4 touchdowns. Keep an eye on Randolph in the punt return game as well, as he led the Big East in punt return average at 14.7 yards. A big concern for USF is the lack of a consistent ground game, and the overall athleticism of Grothe has been required to keep defenses honest against the run.

The area that East Carolina is weakest on defense is against the run, as ECU yields 144 yards per game on the ground and USF must find a way to exploit that weakness. If USF is able to establish an early ground game, Grothe should have time to throw the ball, as ECU has not been able to generate a consistent pass rush this year and has relied heavily on the playmaking skills of CB Kasey Ross and LB Quentin Cotton to slow opposing offenses.

The deciding factor...

These teams are similar in that they both like to open up the field and employ a variety of looks to keep opposing defenses guessing while their QBís run and pass all over the field. For ECU, the focus must be on containing Matt Grothe, the catalyst of the entire Bulls offense who can sometimes try to do too much and get careless with the football, resulting in turnovers. In most cases, how Grothe goes, so goes the South Florida offense. USF will have their hands full with ECUís Pinkney, but the Bull defense is a step quicker than ECUís unit and more capable of bringing pressure. Like Grothe, Pinkney can be rushed into making huge mistakes by forcing plays that are not there. This game is likely to come down to what quarterback outperforms the other and best avoids the key mistakes that can change a game that is as closely matched as this one appears.

The staff says...

Ben David Eddie Ethan Gregg Jeff Jonathan Matt Matthew Reed

NEW MEXICO BOWL - New Mexico vs San Jose State
December 23 - 3:30 PM CST ESPN - Albuquerque, NM

When New Mexico has the ball...

The Lobos are planning on having QB Donovan Porterie available for the bowl game, and he clearly established himself as the starter of the future this season as he led the Lobos to come-from-behind wins in his initial three career starts versus UNLV, Utah, and Colorado State. QB Chris Nelson is also likely to see action, and he started 6 games this year before giving way to Porterie in the seventh week of the season. Whoever is behind center for the Lobos has two excellent targets to throw to in Marcus Smith and Travis Brown. Brown led the Lobos with 57 catches for 784 yards and is a precise route runner with sure hands, the best friend of a young QB.

Facing a San Jose State pass rush that is mediocre, either Lobo QB should have time to set up in the pocket and survey the field. Both signal-callers must be aware of SJSU cornerback Dwight Lowery who ended the season in a tie as the best in the nation with 9 interceptions. New Mexico will look to unleash a well balanced attack, and with RB Rodney Ferguson, they should be able to gain chunks of yardage against a susceptible SJSU run defense that ranks 84th in the nation. Ferguson was at his best at the end of the season, as he piled up 138 yards versus BYU and 210 versus San Diego State and ended the year with 1,199 yards.

When San Jose State has the ball...

The Spartans like to utilize a varied offensive attack, all used to set up the nationís 15th best running game, led by RBs Yonus Davis and Patrick Perry. That 1-2 punch is key to the success of QB Adam Trafalis, who is a very accurate passer completing 65.9% of his passes on the season. Trafalis' top target is WR James Jones, who led the Spartans with 64 receptions and is a big play threat, having six plays of over forty yards this season. If the Lobos focus too much of their energy on Jones, WR John Broussard will make them pay, as he is the perfect complement to the big play ability of Jones.

New Mexico will counter the SJSU offense with a 3-3-5 defense that relies heavily on speed to plug gaps as the unit is undersized. The playmaker on the Lobo defensive unit is safety Quincy Black, who ranked 2nd in the Mountain West conference with 113 tackles in addition to his 3 interceptions as he roams the middle of the field. New Mexico has been susceptible to the pass and will need to apply pressure to Trafalis. Otherwise, he is capable of picking them apart with his accurate arm.

The deciding factor...

New Mexico has the built-in advantage of playing at home in Albuquerque in the debut of the New Mexico Bowl. The Lobos will pound away with Ferguson, and if he gets rolling, the Spartans will be in for a long day on the defensive side of the ball. SJSU will focus on loading the line of scrimmage and forcing New Mexico to attack them through the air where Dwight Lowery is capable of making game-changing plays, as he did all season long. New Mexico has struggled in protecting the QB, increasing the importance of getting the running game on track to have the best chance at winning this game. The Lobos are at their best on defense when using their speed to create turnovers, 25 on the season, and their defenders will attack the backfield from any position on the field. SJSU will need the big play capability of James Jones down the field to keep the Lobo defense back on its heels and unable to blitz consistently, or otherwise it could turn into a long night for the Spartans.

The staff says...

Ben David Eddie Ethan Gregg Jeff Jonathan Matt Matthew Reed

December 23 - 7:00 PM CST ESPN - Fort Worth, Texas

When Utah has the ball...

The Utes run a spread offense directed by QB Brett Ratliff and like to spread the ball around to a variety of wide-outs or have Ratliff run the ball himself, as he is the Utes' second leading rusher. Brett ended the season strong, as he threw for 278 yards per game and 11 touchdowns while tossing only 1 interception in the last five games, leading Utah to wins in four of five games to end the year. Once Utah opens the field by spreading the Tulsa defense across the landscape, the Utes will pound away with RB Darryl Poston who is not a threat to break any big runs, as his longest run on the year was 18 yards, but he will grind away at the Tulsa front seven and is capable of wearing a defense down.

The Golden Hurricane are vulnerable to the run and rank 57th in the nation in rushing defense, yielding 135 yards per game. The strength of Tulsa is a stingy pass defense that rates as the 6th best in the country in giving up yardage through the air. The key for Utah will be avoiding Tulsa LB Nick Bunting, who was named Conference USAís defensive player of the year and is the leader of the Hurricane's top-ranked C-USA defensive unit.

When Tulsa has the ball...

The clear leader of the Tulsa offense is QB Paul Smith, but he must take care of the football against an opportunistic Utah defense. The top target for Smith is WR Idris Moss, who led the team with 54 catches for 772 yards this year. A key for Tulsa this season has been the strong play of a veteran offensive line that came into the season ranked third in the nation in collegiate experience as four returning starters had 95 career starts.

For the Hurricane, they need to know at all times where First Team All-American defensive back Eric Weddle is lined up on the field. Weddle had 58 tackles and six interceptions on the season and is the teamís leader on the defensive unit, but what is even more impressive is his 7 touchdowns as he also plays offense and special teams and is a true game-changing player. Tulsa will likely work a controlled passing game, as Utah does not generate a tremendous pass rush so Smith should have time in the pocket to find his wideouts in the short to middle range of the field.

The deciding factor...

The key to this game looks to be which team wins the battle of the turnovers. Tulsa has struggled all season in that area, and they rank 85th in the nation in turnover margin at -5, while Utah ranks 16th at +8. In their 4 losses on the year, Tulsa was -7 in the turnover department as opponents capitalized on critical Hurricane mistakes to get the win. Tulsa is stingy in yielding yardage on defense but has not been effective in getting the critical turnovers that can turn a game around. With teams as evenly matched as these two look to be on paper, whichever squad wins the turnover game is likely to emerge victorious. Also, keep an eye on how Tulsa can contain Utahís triple threat Eric Weddle, because he can single-handedly take over a game and lead the Utes to the victory.

The staff says...

Ben David Eddie Ethan Gregg Jeff Jonathan Matt Matthew Reed

HAWAII BOWL - Hawaii vs Arizona State
December 24 - 7:00 PM CST ESPN - Honolulu, HI

When Hawaii has the ball...

Any discussion regarding the Hawaii offense begins with QB Colt Brennan. He led the nation in total yards with 5,341, completed 72.1% of his passes and accounted for 58 touchdowns on the season, as he was named the WACís offensive player of the year. Brennan looks first for his top target in WR Davone Bess, who lead the team in receptions with 91 on the year, including 14 of those for touchdowns. Even the Warriors' top runner, Nate Ilaoa, catches passes as he recorded 57 receptions on the year in addition to churning out 883 yards on the ground.

The Sun Devil defense will have a huge challenge on their hands, and with the unit ranking 68th nationally in scoring defense, Hawaii has to be excited about what their offense will be able to do in this matchup. ASU will need DE Dexter Davis and LB Darron Ware to get into the backfield and disrupt Brennanís rhythm; otherwise Hawaii will be up and down the field all afternoon long.

When Arizona State has the ball...

Heading into the season, the Sun Devils looked to rely heavily on the arm of QB Rudy Carpenter after he was handed the starting job in the preseason. Instead, RB Ryan Torain led the Devils on the ground, as ASU ranked 33rd in the nation in running the ball thanks to Torain's 1,069 yards behind a strong and experienced offensive line. When Carpenter does look to pass, his top target is TE Zach Miller, ASUís all-time leader in receptions for a tight end with 143. Miller led the Devils in receptions, yards, and touchdowns, and he is also a major asset in the running game as he is an excellent blocker.

The Warriors have concerns on defense as the unit ranks 93rd in total defense, yielding 376.8 yards per game, and has struggled in stopping opposing teams' passing attacks. The leader of the Warrior unit is DE Melila Purcell who will chase Carpenter all day and the ILB duo of Adam Leonard and Solomon Elimimian who will be focused on stuffing the ASU running game.

The deciding factor...

A key aspect of this game is that Hawaii will be enjoying the home cooking of Aloha Stadium, where the Warriors have won 70% of their games in the past seven years under the direction of June Jones. Hawaii was 7-1 at home this year, losing the last game of the season versus Oregon State 35-32, while averaging 48 points per game. UH will look to throw the ball all over the field in their wide open passing game, spreading ASU defenders across the field and then hammer them with the quick draw to RB Nate Ilaoa. In order to keep the Hawaii offense safely on the sidelines, ASU will pound away with Torain and Herring and work the controlled passing game with TE Miller. If this game turns into an offensive shoot-out, the Devils will likely not have enough weapons to keep pace.

The staff says...

Ben David Eddie Ethan Gregg Jeff Jonathan Matt Matthew Reed

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